a jocular word for "great man, boss, important person," 1832, American English (originally New England), from Algonquian (Natick) mugquomp "important person" (derived from mugumquomp "war leader"). By 1840 it was in satirical use as "one who thinks himself important." It was revived from 1884 in reference to Republicans who refused to support James G. Blaine's presidential candidacy, originally as a term of abuse but the independents embraced it. Hence "one who holds himself aloof from party politics."
"to refuse to use or participate in; stand aloof from; shun; avoid," mid-14c., from Old French eschiver "shun, eschew, avoid, dispense with," from Frankish *skiuhan "dread, avoid, shun," from Proto-Germanic *skeukhwaz (source also of Old High German sciuhen "to avoid, escape," German scheuen "to fear, shun, shrink from," scheu "shy, timid"); see shy (adj.). Related: Eschewed; eschewing; eschewal; eschewance. Italian schivare "to avoid, shun, protect from," schivo "shy, bashful" are related loan words from Germanic. For e-, see e-.
late 13c., straunge, "from elsewhere, foreign, unknown, unfamiliar, not belonging to the place where found," from Old French estrange "foreign, alien, unusual, unfamiliar, curious; distant; inhospitable; estranged, separated" (Anglo-French estraunge, strange, straunge; Modern French étrange), from Latin extraneus "foreign, external, from without" (source also of Italian strano "strange, foreign," Spanish extraño), from extra "outside of" (see extra-). In early use also strounge. The surname Lestrange is attested from late 12c. Sense of "queer, surprising" is attested from c. 1300, also "aloof, reserved, distant; estranged." In nuclear physics, from 1956.
1530s (in Latin form sycophanta), "informer, talebearer, slanderer," from French sycophante and directly from Latin sycophanta, from Greek sykophantes "false accuser, slanderer," literally "one who shows the fig," from sykon "fig" (see fig) + phainein "to show" (from PIE root *bha- (1) "to shine").
"Showing the fig" was a vulgar gesture made by sticking the thumb between two fingers, a display which vaguely resembles a fig, itself symbolic of a vagina (sykon also meant "vulva"). The modern accepted explanation is that prominent politicians in ancient Greece held aloof from such inflammatory gestures, but privately urged their followers to taunt their opponents. The sense of "mean, servile flatterer" is first recorded in English 1570s.
The explanation, long current, that it orig. meant an informer against the unlawful exportation of figs cannot be substantiated. [OED]